More 2666 Reviews

Couple more review for 2666. First, there’s Jonathan Lethem’s review in the NYTBR (reprinted in the International Herald tribune). This pretty much sums it up:

Well, hold on to your hats.

After Kirsch’s love letter, I’m beginning to get a little disappointed in the coverage, as these reviews seem altogether too credulous. There are plenty of sky-high, arcing statements about redefining the form of the long novel, etc., etc., but I’m seeing little critical engagement beyond a few generalized insights that sound quite similar from review to review. Perhaps these reviewers believe that they can back up these broad statements they’re making, but I do not see much evidence forthcoming from them.

Of course, part of this is a space issue. Lethem wasn’t allotted nearly enough space to get the job done (and neither was Kirsch). I suppose if you only get 1,500 words you’re going to have to triage and go with what’s most basic. But let me be clear: Anyone who thinks they can properly consider this book’s context, faults, successes, and (quite simply) its basic functional order in 1,500 words isn’t paying close enough attention.

So I don’t know if this is purely a space issue or what, but it’s disturbing that this book is being treated with a very hands-off approach, especially after The Savage Detectives met with virtually universal adulation. In my opinion, now that Bolano’s wave is higher than ever, there is an immense onus on critics to be absolutely clear in their critique of future books from him. Since 2666 is about as hyped as any book will be this year, and such much of the hype is coming from people who are well-respected, there is an especially large responsibility to justify your praise or criticism of it.

Perhaps Lethem and Kirsch do really think 2666 is the single greatest thing to happen to the English language in decades, but the very least we, the reading public, deserve is a more coherent explanation of why than we’re getting. Anything less is simply not serving the function that a critic for a publication like the NYTBR should serve.

In the LA Times, Ben Ehrenreich seems to altogether abandon the idea of evaluation, as his review is even more descriptive than Lethem’s or Kirsch’s. In his favor, I will say that he does a nice job of placing 2666 in the context of Bolano’s oeuvre, but by the time he actually gets around to the book at hand, there’s not space for much more than cliches:

This is no ordinary whodunit, but it is a murder mystery. Santa Teresa is not just a hell. It’s a mirror also — "the sad American mirror of wealth and poverty and constant, useless metamorphosis." It is a city of migrants drawn from points south by the proximity of the United States and work in the foreign-owned maquiladoras: "[b]adly paid and exploitative work, with ridiculous hours and no union protections, but work, after all." The many currents of the contemporary globalized economic order, with all its inequities and waste, converge there. Santa Teresa is, quite literally, the secret of our world, the blood-stained back door to the frail stage-set of North American affluence.

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How about 125 words?
http://www.newyorker.com/arts/reviews/brieflynoted/2008/11/17/081117crbn_brieflynoted1
But beyond your general complaining regarding the length issue, what exactly are you proposing?
If we can assume that Newspaper X or Magazine Y is simply NOT going to be convinced to devote three or four times their typical space for a 2666 review, should the reviewer decline to do it at all, out of principle? Should readers refuse to read these reviews, out of principle?

I’m suggesting that literary critics should take their responsibilities seriously and that readers of literary criticism should hold them to a high standard.
How you define that in terms of actual action is your own decision.

So is a critic who agrees to do a 1200-word review or a 1000-word by definition shirking their responsibility?

So is a critic who agrees to write a 1200-word review or a 1000-word review by definition shirking their responsibility?

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